Fresh from a hard fought victory out in the eastern end of Eastern Europe, Newcastle United return to Premier League action against Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton in the now familiar Sunday afternoon kick-off slot.
Alex Ferguson, or “Sralex” to give him his proper name, spoke glowingly of the Saints after the Champions-elect were pushed all the way at Old Trafford, citing the pressure that the Southampton players applied when they didn’t have the ball and declaring them the best team they had played at Old Trafford all season.
Whilst many in football were shocked at the sacking of Nigel Adkins and his subsequent replacement being appointed almost immediately, comparisons can be drawn to the removal of Chris Hughton from the Newcastle hot-seat and Alan Pardew’s appointment soon after.
In both cases a popular manager doing an okay job was replaced by someone not initially to the fans liking. Pardew won the Toon fans over as the Magpies finished fifth and qualified for Europe. Pochettino is still relatively new to the south coast club, but his attacking play and fearless approach has already began to build bridges.
Pardew himself will be motivated by the memory of his removal from the helm at St Mary’s, regardless of the rumours of the exact reason for his dismissal. Pardew was appointed soon after the late Markus Liebherr took over the club.
It was Pardew who brought Rickie Lambert to St Mary’s and even won a trophy in his time there, but was jettisoned by Liebherr less than a year in to the job amongst rumours of disharmony and conflict between manager and other staff members, despite winning more than half his games whilst in the hot seat.
Newcastle flew straight back from Ukraine after the game, but still won’t have arrived back until the early hours of Friday morning, so Pardew is expected to rotate his squad a little despite naming a strong side against Metalist Kharkiv.
Tim Krul arrived back in the UK wearing a protective cast on his ankle after a frustrated late challenge as Newcastle saw the game out and may miss out on Sunday. Steven Taylor, Davide Santon and Cheick Tioté didn’t feature against Metalist and may all return, although Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa would be aggrieved to lose his place after two strong performances in Europe.
Despite leading the line well, goalscorer Shola Ameobi can expect to return to the bench with Papiss Cissé returning to a more advanced position with Jonás Gutiérrez returning and the fit again Yoan Gouffran pushing for selection. This game will come too soon for the returning Hatem Ben Arfa, but Toon fans can get excited at the prospect of Cissé, Gouffran and Ben Arfa lining up together soon.
The win against Metalist and progression to the last sixteen has caused a buzz on Tyneside, but United need to be on their guard against Pochettino’s chargers, and going in to the game thinking it is already won would be a disaster.
Newcastle have struggled against sides who like to retain possession, losing at home to Swansea after being unable to deal with their pressing game and ball retention. The most notable change under Pochettino has been the constant pressing of the ball high up the pitch, giving the opposition little time to get in to a rhythm.
With Yohan Cabaye liking time on the ball and Tioté prone to holding on to the ball too long, Newcastle will need to be at their most composed to find a way around the busy Saints players. The crowd will play their part as well and Newcastle would benefit from a quick start to rouse the subdued crowd, an unfortunate by-product of Sunday lunchtime football.